The Best Way to Transfer Large Files (4GB+) from your Mac to PC (or PC to Mac)

Transferring a large file from a Mac to PC or PC to Mac can be really frustrating. The Mac OS doesn’t support NTFS and Windows doesn’t support HFS+. Both support FAT32 but there is a 4GB file limit which is where the headache comes. Even with a sufficiently large 8GB, 16GB, 32GB USB memory stick or SD memory card or even with a huge multi-terabyte external hard drive, you just can’t copy the file over.

 

Searching through the internet to solve this problem gave me a lot of incorrect or complicated solutions. A few of these are:

- Using a large usb memory stick or external hard disk drive with NTFS, HFS or Ext2, Ext3 or Ext4 (Linux file formats) that supports large (4GB+) files.

- Transferring the file using FTP or SSH

- Installing a driver or software that enables you to read NTFS files on your Mac, or Mac OS Extended (HFS+) volumes on your PC

- Using a direct connection with a crossover LAN cable

All of these so-called solutions, most of which are methods to get around the NTFS/HFS+ file system incompatibility, are either time consuming, complicated or require some sort of paid software installed.

 

However, there are 2 relatively simple, and free, ways to solve this.

1. Memory Card or External Hard Drive Formatted with ExFAT
The first solution to transfer large files between Macs and PCs is to use a memory card or external drive formatted into exFAT, a file system created by Microsoft that is compatible on both Macs (Snow Leopard 10.6.5 and above) and PCs (Windows XP SP2 and above).

[ Note : You must install Windows update KB955704 to properly access exFAT drives in Windows XP ]

To create an exFAT drive, you need to select exFAT as the file system when formatting (or erasing on Mac) your drive. In Windows, you can easily do this by using “FORMAT x: /FS:exfat /q” in the command prompt (where x: is the external drive) or by selecting exFAT instead of NTFS using the new disk wizard.

For those who are worried if exFAT can handle your huge file or not, the maximum file size is 16EB (that’s giga, tera, peta and then exa), with 512TB being the recommended maximum file size in Windows XP. So, yes, your 500GB file will fit in an exFAT drive.

[Additional Note : I've noticed exFAT recognition between the Mac and PC isn't always consistent. If your Mac formatted exFAT drive is not recognized in Windows, you will probably have to assign a drive letter to it. (please ask if you need further instructions on this) Try #2 if you can't get the drive recognized properly]

 

2. Over a Network (LAN) Connection
When you don’t have a memory card or external drive ready, or if exFAT just doesn’t like you, you can still transfer files by sharing a folder on your PC (make it writable) and copy the file using Finder on your Mac. Instructions are as follows:

Create a shared folder on your Windows PC. Make sure you make it writable for everyone.

To connect to your shared PC folder from your Mac, open Finder and select Go -> Connect to Server in the menu and type in smb://[ipaddress of shared folder computer].

 

Connecting to Windows Shared Folder

 

Type in your Windows username and password to connect to your computer and start copying your file over. As you can see below, my Mac is happily copying a 7.25GB file over to my Windows shared folder.

This file transfer was performed using Wi-Fi but the fastest way would be to connect using a physical LAN line at 100Mbps or 1Gbps.

Once the file transfer is complete, I recommended that you disable the shared folder for security reasons, especially if the folder is not password protected.

3. LAN and Over the Internet: Skype File Transfer

I’m adding one more simple method to transfer large files between Mac and PCs. The answer is Skype. If you think the 2 methods above are complicated, get your buddy (or your alt account) and yourself on Skype, select your buddy in the contact list and go to Conversation -> Send -> File and select the file you want to send. The transfer will start when your buddy accepts the file. This will work for both internal LAN transfers and also over the internet, all for free.

Also check out my other article: How To Send Large Files (Larger Than 2GBs) Over the Internet for Free

Let me know how this works for you. If you have a better method, please do let me know!

26 Responses to The Best Way to Transfer Large Files (4GB+) from your Mac to PC (or PC to Mac)

  1. Shannon says:

    Binfer is a great option to send large files directly from computer to computer, without uploading to a server. You can send hundreds of files of any size with a simple drag and drop. Binfer will manage the transfers with auto resumes, encryption, notifications etc.

  2. David says:

    Hi Shannon,

    Thanks for the info but personally, I have a better recommendation than to enroll in a $19.95/month service plan to send 10GBs of data (or even more) over the internet. My above solution is for transferring between 2 computers within the same local network. Over the internet is trickier than this but there is a better solution…

    • Shannon says:

      Hi David,

      Your solution will certainly work but lets state the true cost of your solution. Cost of a good quality 16 GB usb 2.0 drive was $15 to $40(last time I checked on Amazon). What about the time spent is downloading/installing the KB, setting things up? I rate my time at $60 per hour. What I proposed cost much less, is way less complex and will work over internet too.

      • David says:

        Hi again,

        I’ll give you my opinion on this. A USB drive cost is pretty cheap these days so let’s not consider this as part of the cost. Besides, you don’t even need it. The cost of time seems to be the key point here, as you mentioned.

        For internal transfers, as Binfer uses a direct connection, performance/time should be similar to the method above. However, if you have enough time to install Binfer on both computers, add your credit cart to set up an account and spend time maintaining it, the above method should take less time. As for money out-of-the-pocket, to transfer 100GB, I would have to pay $19.99 to do so when I can do it without paying a dime. I doubt my method above will take more time than using Binfer.

        For internet transfers, I would rather recommend Dropbox or Wetransfer for any minor transfers under 2GB. These are much more convenient and pricing is much better than Binfer, too. Binfer may be a tad faster with the direct transfer, but you would probably need 2 people with their computers on at the same time. Wetransfer and Dropbox require 1 upload and download can be anytime by any multiple people.

        For serious internet transfers above 2GBs and for those who transfer large files often, I recommend running your own file server. With the right solution, this will pay off any paid transfer service easily and you even are able to maximize your full upload capability. With a 35Mbps upload connection, I’ve been able to achieve 4+ MB/s up/downloads to a location on the other side of the globe. That’s 15GBs an hour… can Binfer beat that?

        You’ll need the right file server for these results though. Not all file servers are created equal. More of these tips will be on my upcoming articles.

  3. Dennis says:

    This is a useful tip. I managed to transfer file >4GB from my iMac to external HD. I hooked up my external HD to Belkin wifi Router so the external HD appear as server. File transfer using wifi, 6.5GB about 35 minutes.

    • David says:

      Yes, connecting your external hard drive to a USB enabled router (if you have one) which makes it a shared drive, will work, too. (technically, the NTFS formatted external drive should read properly on the router’s OS (probably a variant of linux) which supports NTFS)

      A NAS (network attached storage) will work as an intermediate space for large file transfers as well.

  4. joe says:

    Just use ExFAT formatted intermediate drive. Supported on mac and pc, and supports large files >4GB.

    • David says:

      Thanks for the suggestion Joe. I believe there were problems before on the Mac with exFAT but let me check and if all tests out good, I’ll be updating my article!

      [update: exFAT works but drive recognition in Windows with a Mac formatted exFAT drive requires assigning a drive letter to the partition.]

  5. Olcay says:

    what about cables which one end its firewire and the other part is usb, and start your mac in firewire data transfer mode… ?t should be much more easier than any solutions…

    • David says:

      I think you mean using Target Disk Mode in Mac. Yes, you can access your Mac hard drive just as an external drive using this option, but this does not solve the HFS+/NTFS incompatibility. Your Mac hard drive will work with other Macs but won’t be recognized in Windows.

  6. Lee Benningfield says:

    What about using rar or 7zip (or whatever compression format has the best support on Mac) to split the file into chunks smaller than 4GB, and then using a USB flash drive formatted in the usual FAT32?

    • David says:

      Yes, that will work too but instead of spending time figuring out the options to split the file and then copy 2 times for each 4GB chunk of data, a network copy is much easier to initiate and copy.

  7. Bill says:

    ExFAT solution worked for me.. Thanks a lot..

  8. alice says:

    How do I assign a drive letter to the drive via MAC so it reads on Windows?

    • David says:

      You’ll need to assign the drive letter in Windows if it does not assign it automatically.

      1. Click Start, click Run, type compmgmt.msc, and then click OK (for Windows 7, click Start, type compmgmt.msc in the search box)

      2. Click Disk Management under Storage.

      3. Find the new exFAT partition, right click and Mark Partition as Active (if grayed out) and Change Drive Letters and Paths as necessary to assign a drive letter.

  9. Alexandra says:

    I am getting very upset with my Mac about all this: I am trying to transfer 3D DVD to my TV… seems easy enough from a non mac computer. But not from a mac. I was advised to buy a cable from Mac to TV then I was told that it will not workbecause it is 3D, Then I am trying to format 32Gb memory sticks into exFat but my Mac is getting stuck every time I am trying to format it! help…it cannot be that difficult to do that…

    • David says:

      Hi Alexandra. Does this TV have storage on it so it can play stored video files and play off of it? From your explanation, it seems like your TV accepts memory cards and is capable of playing from it.

      Normally, a TV works as a display only and you would play the video from your computer and only output the video signal to your TV. In this case, all you would need is a HDMI output adapter and HDMI cable to output the computer signal to your TV.

      If your TV is capable of playing from the memory stick directly, you need to check first if the TV memory card reader supports exFAT or not. This information should be available in your TV manual.

      Even if the TV reads exFAT formatted cards, the TV has to support the video format to play it properly. If it’s a standard DVD format, I believe it should play it though. Let me know if you need further help.

  10. Jodi says:

    I need a little clarification in the “Over the network (LAN) connection” solution. I think the solution described how to transfer large files from a Mac to a pc. I need to do the opposite, transfer files from pc to Mac. Would you be able to write out the steps for this as well? I’d really appreciate it!

    • David says:

      Hi Jodi, since the method above actually shares a Windows folder by making it both readable and writable, the method is practically the same. Just copy that large file to the Windows shared folder first, then open that folder from your Mac (using the method above) and copy it over.

  11. masterofsql says:

    Thanks a lot mate,
    you saved me couple of hours!
    Fantastic feature – and thanks for sharing!!

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    You are life saver. ExFAT worked

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